Did you know?
Each cheetah is covered in about 2000 small, round, dark spots.
There is no mammal on Earth that explodes into a run faster than a cheetah. Usain Bolt broke the record at 100 metres in 9.58 seconds. A cheetah can do the same distance in half the time. Not even Bolt in a Maserati could get out of the starting blocks faster.
This is a cat with a greyhound chassis, as wildlife behaviourist Richard Estes so vividly describes it. Tall and distinctively elegant as an athletic supermodel, cheetahs are made for speed.
Its foreshortened face allows larger nasal cavities and greater oxygen intake. Its long legs carry it over 9 metres per stride at full sprint and its dog-like claws are like athletic cleats, digging in at every stride. Its long heavy tail helps it balance and turn at full speed.
A cheetah can accelerate up to a maximum of 112km/h, but can only maintain that kind of sprint for about 300 metres before its body temperature shoots up to dangerous levels.
It swats at its prey’s hindquarters, tripping it up, then lunges for the windpipe to strangle it. Once it has its kill, and rested a little to get its heart rate down, the cheetah will eat until its stomach is tight as a drum. Unlike cheetahs and lions, it won’t return to the kill, leaving the remains for the jackals, hyenas and other predators.
Learning how to hunt at explosively high speed requires a long apprenticeship, which is why cheetah youngsters stay with their mothers until they are at least 15 months old.
Once cheetahs were widespread all over the world, but now their stronghold is in southern Africa, notably Namibia, with around 3 000. South Africa’s population is small but stable at around 850, with less than half in protected areas and the rest free-ranging.
They prefer the wide-open spaces of grasslands and open savannahs, but have been found to do quite well in riverine thickets in the Karoo where they were recently introduced into certain private game reserves.
Here they stalk their prey, much like leopards do, pouncing at the last minute to bring down prey as large as kudus.
In fact, they do well in most places where there are no lions – their traditional mortal enemies.
You could see them in the wild or at a number of highly respected wildlife sanctuaries.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, near Pretoria (previously called De Wildt)
Tel: +27 (0) 12 504 9906/7/8
Cell: +27 (0) 83 892 0515
Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre
Tel: +27 (0) 15 793 1633
Cell: 083 654 2299
Cheetah Outreach, Somerset West
Tel: +27 (0) 21 851 6850
Cell: +27 (0) 83 364 6278
Samara Private Game Reserve, near Graaff-Reinet
Tel: +27 (0) 49 891 0880
Tel: +27 (0) 23 626 6113
South African National Parks reservations
Tel: +27 (0) 12 428 9111
Cell: +27 (0) 82 233 9111